Descending Triangle (Continuation)

The descending triangle is a bearish formation that usually forms during a downtrend as a continuation pattern. There are instances when descending triangles form as reversal patterns at the end of an uptrend, but they are typically continuation patterns. Regardless of where they form, descending triangles are bearish patterns that indicate distribution.

Dupont, Inc. (DD) Descending Triangle example chart from StockCharts.com

Because of its shape, the pattern can also be referred to as a right-angle triangle. Two or more comparable lows form a horizontal line at the bottom. Two or more declining peaks form a descending trend line above that converges with the horizontal line as it descends. If both lines were extended right, the descending trend line could act as the hypotenuse of a right triangle. If a perpendicular line were drawn extending up from the left end of the horizontal line, a right triangle would form. Let's examine each individual part of the pattern and then look at an example.

  1. Trend: In order to qualify as a continuation pattern, an established trend should exist. However, because the descending triangle is definitely a bearish pattern, the length and duration of the current trend is not as important. The robustness of the formation is paramount.

  2. Lower Horizontal Line: At least 2 reaction lows are required to form the lower horizontal line. The lows do not have to be exact, but should be within reasonable proximity of each other. There should be some distance separating the lows and a reaction high between them.

  3. Upper Descending Trend Line: At least two reaction highs are required to form the upper descending trend line. These reaction highs should be successively lower and there should be some distance between the highs. If a more recent reaction high is equal to or greater than the previous reaction high, then the descending triangle is not valid.

  4. Duration: The length of the pattern can range from a few weeks to many months, with the average pattern lasting from 1-3 months.

  5. Volume: As the pattern develops, volume usually contracts. When the downside break occurs, there would ideally be an expansion of volume for confirmation. While volume confirmation is preferred, it is not always necessary.

  6. Return to Breakout: A basic tenet of technical analysis is that broken support turns into resistance and vice versa. When the horizontal support line of the descending triangle is broken, it turns into resistance. Sometimes there will be a return to this newfound resistance level before the down move begins in earnest.

  7. Target: Once the breakout has occurred, the price projection is found by measuring the widest distance of the pattern and subtracting it from the resistance breakout.

In contrast to the symmetrical triangle, a descending triangle has a definite bearish bias before the actual break. The symmetrical triangle is a neutral formation that relies on the impending breakout to dictate the direction of the next move. For the descending triangle, the horizontal line represents demand that prevents the security from declining past a certain level. It is as if a large buy order has been placed at this level and it is taking a number of weeks or months to execute, thus preventing the price from declining further. Even though the price does not decline past this level, the reaction highs continue to decline. It is these lower highs that indicate increased selling pressure and give the descending triangle its bearish bias.

Nucor Corp. (NUE) Descending Triangle example chart from StockCharts.com

After recording a lower high just below 60 in Dec-99, Nucor formed a descending triangle early in 2000. In late April, the stock broke support with a gap down, sharp break and increase in volume to complete the formation.